Shaler came away with a 57-44 win to earn its first section championship since 2012.
"First off, hats off to Fox Chapel,” Shaler coach Rob Niederberger said. "Every year, they are always competitive. The big things we talked about with the guys is you have to want it more than they do or more, because every time we play these guys, they battle. It is so physical. Our first game with them (on Jan. 16) was 39-27, I thought it would be like that again. But that’s how it is with these teams.”
The Foxes (12-10, 7-3) got off to a quick start, but they were plagued by foul trouble throughout the game. Once the Titans took the lead in the first quarter, they did not relinquish it.
Shaler (20-2, 9-1) has a big-time post player in 6-foot-2 senior Brandon London, and the St. Francis football recruit was a difference-maker. He recorded game highs of 19 points and 13 rebounds.
"Brandon’s footwork is fantastic,” Niederberger said. "He’s tough inside, he’s strong. There’s not one big guy that we played this year that has outplayed him.”
Jefferson Moorefield-Brown paced the Foxes with 17 points and six rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Forward Caden Kaise, wh0 had two fouls in the game’s first 30 seconds, also fouled out with just two points.
Fox Chapel coach Zach Skrinjar thought the fouls helped take the Foxes out of their rhythm.
"It was rough. Even though that’s kind of out of our control, you have to adjust. We have some good things going at first, but we just couldn’t put good consistent possessions together after that.”
Shaler has been building up to this point with a strong senior class. The Titans have an eight-man senior rotation that coach Niederberger calls his eight starters.
"They mean a lot to me, and I know they mean a lot to the community,” Niederberger said. "These guys are best friends, and the nice thing about them is that they all bring something different to the table. One day it might not be a guy’s night, but it could be someone else’s. So that’s on us as coaches to try and find out what is the right rotation each game.”
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Two of those seniors, Keegan Smetanka and Joey Miller, finished with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Senior Will Siegel was the only other player in double figures for Fox Chapel, as he finished with 10 points and five rebounds.
Both teams have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs, and both coaches think the 5A playoff field will be a tough tournament no matter the matchup. The playoff brackets will be announced Monday afternoon.
"(We need) to just keep playing ball the way we are,” Niederberger said. "We’re playing our best basketball right now, and I think we move the ball as well as anybody. I also think we are as physical as anybody as well, and defense and rebounding are what wins championships.”
Skrijar thinks all of the 5A playoff games will be challenging.
"I think 5A will be very competitive, and I don’t think there will be any easy first-round game. We need to work on ourselves and work to continue improving. We have a couple of scrimmages lined up, so we just need to kind of refine what we do before we find out who our opponent is.”